The massive demonstration in London on June 20th reflected the widespread shock and anger of the Tamil diaspora. The key demands that have to be raised are the right to live in the Tamil homeland; freedom for internees and political prisoners; and immediate withdrawal of the army, which is overwhelmingly Sinhalese. These demands can help refocus a movement focused on the demand for a ceasefire, and provide an antidote to the retreat of the LTTE leadership into building a transnational government committee in exile rather than a real movement.
300,000 children, men and women – many elderly – have been interned in concentration camps. Over 50,000 have been killed or disappeared. 10,000 political prisoners have being held, accused of being Tamil Tigers, who have no chance to face trial or otherwise be freed.
The government is refusing to withdraw troops from Tamil areas and is falsely claiming that these troops are needed to remove landmines. The army isn’t there primarily to remove mines, but to assist in the ethnic cleansing of the Tamil homeland. Most of the Tamil people have either been killed or driven out of the Tamil homeland. The Tamil people can remove the mines for themselves. Since 2003, 500,000 people have been trained in landmine removal there; their effectiveness has been praised by the Mines Advisory Group.
To prevent further ethnic cleansing we demand: that the interned people are released, that they are compensated for damages and allowed to go home.
The government seems to have a different plan: to gather Tamils into concentration camps and then later perhaps to disperse Tamil survivors, along with military police, across the Sinhalese region. To further reduce the area with a Tamil majority homeless poor Sinhalese families (and the families of some soldiers) will be settled onto Tamil land.
The Tamils in those camps won’t be set free any time soon. The government claims the camps will exist for just three months. However, they are hardened structures with hospitals, ATM machines and the infrastructure of a permanent camp. In a further example of the ethnic cleansing being attempted, the 55,000 students in these camps (who are desperate for learning after a year without schooling) are being taught Sinhalese and Buddhism in the camps in order to reduce the Tamil identity of young people.
While international aid organisations will focus on the conditions of families, the left has to consider the special position of trade union members and of political prisoners, for whom no-one else will stand up. Worryingly, trade unions are being prevented from visiting the 2,000 teachers working in the camps. Access is crucial for the unions to help workers to get the right documentation and conditions – and to ensure the truth gets out concerning the real conditions in the camps. It’s important that the political prisoners stay alive. Many have been taken, killed, crushed – none have been offered justice. Many of the survivors are leaders of the Tamil struggle, and can play a crucial role in giving dignity and direction to the Tamil struggle.
Because the UN and ‘international community’ won’t lift a finger to protect trade unionists and political prisoners, the right to trade unions and political organisation needs to be defended by the international labour and progressive movements.
These campaigns can be especially important in offering the Tamil community worldwide a way forward. If there was peace, then farming, shipping, tourism and other aspects of the Tamil economy would develop. Under occupation and dispersion, however, the Tamil people will undergo repression; a fate similar in some ways to the experience of the Kurdish nation in Turkey. The occupied people will be allowed political parties that are approved by the occupier. A facade of Tamils, approved by the Sinhalese army, will sit on council seats but while those Quislings get their snouts into the trough, there will be no lasting peace without justice and self-determination for the Tamil people as a whole.
The last months have also revealed the deep complicity of Britain and other European Union countries in the genocidal war against the Tamil people. Despite the presence of many sincere individual supporters of Tamil rights, the major parties in Britain, like the political mainstream in the rest of the West, has aided the Sri Lankan government with military training and equipment – including landmines from Belgium, Italy, Portugal and the United States. In contrast, the radical anti-capitalist left worldwide has been a consistent supporter of the Tamil struggle. If the Tamil people and the left were able to find a way to integrate their efforts, then the non-Tamil communities could be moblised far more widely – as we have seen with solidarity movements focussed on Ireland, the Middle East and Latin America.
Photo: Tamil Voice.